More than 80 people packed into a room at Kingsbridge Community College on Friday night to discuss how to protect the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty from inappropriate development.

The meeting was organised by amenity groups that use the AONB like the South Hams Society, and Bob Harvey, the groups’ representative on the AONB Partnership Committee.

It follows a meeting of the committee in December at which Mr Harvey demanded users of the area be given a greater say in the AONB’s responses to planning applications. Members of the public were not allowed to speak at that meeting, so last week’s get together was a chance to have their say and discuss a way forward.

In his report on the meeting afterwards, Mr Harvey described it as ’positive and practical, suggesting a number of routes forward’. Those in attendance came up with three points, which would be sent on to the partnership committee.

These were: ’landscape’ is primarily ’what our countryside looks like’ - a quote from MP Neil Parish; insensitive development is by far the greatest threat to natural beauty; and, the voice of the residents must be heard openly, and acted on quickly.

The closing comment was that ’the AONB Partnership Committee should sharpen its teeth - and use them’.

Also discussed was the importance of the joint local plan in protecting the AONB from development, the importance of affordable housing for local people, and the legal protections given to AONBs. Those present felt the partnership committee should spend more time scrutinising and responding to individual applications, and volunteers could support this.

It was also felt the AONBs priorities were ’misdirected’, with too much effort spent on protected species, which would become irrelevant if their habitat was built over.

Panel member and the Green Party’s district councillor for Totnes John Green said afterwards: ’A lot of local people are concerned about the development happening in the AONB and want to have an influence upon it.

’I think it is important for representatives on the AONB Partnership Committee to consult with their constituencies, to ensure the views of local people and local groups are heard adequately. It is clear the AONB Unit is overstretched and does not have the resources to provide input into many planning applications in the South Hams.

’The district council’s joint local plan, which will be released for a 6-week consultation on March 15, will no doubt help.

Fellow panellist Cllr Julian Brazil said: ’There was an overall feeling of people being very anxious and upset at the wrong kind of development they think is going on in the AONB. Unfortunately, they blame the AONB unit and partnership committee for these wrongs.

’In truth, we are under incredible pressure from government to build more houses. And although people may genuinely believe the law prevents building in the AONB, that is not actually the case.

’Basically, I think it’s wrong to fall out with people that fundamentally agree with you. But of course people have different views - some believe there should be no development at all in the AONB, while I happen to think we should allow some development to maintain living communities.

’People at the meeting agreed on far more than they disagreed on.

’There’s another side to it as well, that if people vote for a government that says it wants to build a million houses on our green and pleasant land, they can’t say ’we don’t want them here’. People have to take some responsibility.

’We won the by-election in Charterlands, and one reason was people were not happy with the status quo, and all the development. Our candidate Elizabeth Huntley was opposed to that.

’However, I don’t want to be too political because to be honest, all parties have fallen for this ridiculous tosh that we have to build one million homes to solve the housing crisis.’